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Gretchen Heine (senior, Spanish and history) likes to stay grounded, even if her travels rarely let her.
Heine has spent her four years at Indiana University of Pennsylvania traveling around the world to countries such as Italy, Mexico and Nicaragua while getting involved in the Spanish and history honors programs.
Named a runner-up for the Syed R. Ali-Zaidi Award for Academic Excellence, Heine is being recognized for those achievements.
This award is presented to a graduating senior from one of the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools to recognize academic achievement, as well as extracurricular involvement.
Heine, a Cook Honors College student, applied for the award in November and was notified over winter break that she was Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s representative after a faculty member in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences nominated her.
During spring break, she was notified that she was a runner-up and winner of $500.
“I was actually really happy because I know the provost office spent time getting my application together,” Heine said. “It was really a reflection on IUP more so than it was myself.”
IUP President Michael A. Driscoll was included in the email Heine received notifying her that she was a recipient. At the Board of Governors meeting in Harrisburg, Driscoll introduced Heine.
“It’s not really so much of an award for myself as it is for IUP because I had the backing of faculty and staff here, so it was a mutual celebration for all of us,” Heine said.
In her application, Heine explained how IUP has prepared her for the next step in her life.
“I wrote about the honors college and how the core curriculum is important,” Heine said.
With Heine’s help, the Spanish Honors Program was revamped.
“I definitely talked about the experiences in both departments [Spanish and history],” she said. “I did the honors tracks in both departments, and so both of those programs required us to do undergraduate research, so that was also an experience that has challenged me.
“It’s very different than traditional classroom experiences.”
With the prize money, Heine said she plans to put a dent in her fundraising efforts for her upcoming year of service in Managua, Nicaragua. There, she will be helping with Manna Project International.
“I was attracted to Manna Project International when I learned how human relationships are the basis of their services,” Heine said. “In other words, we will support the local community primarily by teaching. Monetary support is not a priority because it does not cultivate sustainable development.”
This is far from Heine’s first travels around the world. In high school, she spent her senior year living in Germany.
“During that time, I was really able to explore my host country and build meaningful relationships with people there,” Heine said.
She has also studied abroad in Mexico and Bermuda and was a teaching assistant in Nicaragua and Italy.
Though she has traveled around the world, going to different parts of the United States is also important to Heine.
“I think one of the biggest things is getting an appreciation for other people,” Heine said. “I know that’s something the United States is often criticized for – Americans in general – that we don’t appreciate other cultures or take the time to learn about them.
“Also learning another language is important, too.”
As part of the Alternative Spring Break program, Heine volunteered in Texas at an animal refuge and an intentional sustainable community center in North Carolina.
This year, she led a trip to a Buddhist meditation center in Vermont. Gaining a perspective from someone else’s way of life was helpful, Heine said.
“That’s one of the most important experiences I’ve had at IUP,” Heine said about Alternative Spring Break.
“Learning a lot more about the country we even live in has been beneficial because all three places I’ve been to have been very different and the people very diverse.”
After her work in Nicaragua, Heine may attend graduate school with a possible focus in Latin American studies, she said.
Slippery Rock University’s Rebecca Burcher won the first-place $1,000 award, with Clarion University’s Sara Dickson also named a runner-up.